Thursday, October 09, 2008
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
(Image from IMP Awards)
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
Paul Greengrass returned to direct the second sequel in the Bourne series, the follow up to his excellent 'Supremacy', and he picks up virtually exactly where the last one left off... well, sorta, since the epilogue from the last film takes place in the middle of this one (not as confusing as it sounds). Anyway, if the first film was about Bourne (Matt Damon) discovering what he was, and the second about changing and trying to atone in some small way, then the third is about Bourne trying to discover his origins and bring to an end his involvement with the CIA. Through a newspaper reporter (Paddy Considine), Bourne learns of a new organization within the CIA, Blackbriar, that runs the programme he was a part of. Blackbriar is run by a man named Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), and when it learns of Bourne's presence it enlists Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) to help capture him. Landy is, however, suspicious of Blackbriar and sympathetic towards Bourne based on their past encounters. Bourne's journey leads him to various locales in Europe, Africa, and the US, and he once again encounters operative Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) in the course of events. Of course, his visits to these places don't stop at mere sightseeing, but instead entail car chases, foot chases, spying, bullets aplenty and some old fashioned fisticuffs.
All of the elements that made the first two films so great are now honed to perfection - 'Ultimatum' really fires on all cylinders. It's storytelling style is incredibly economical, and it hurtles along at a relentless pace from start to finish. Admittedly some of the finer plot points don't really hold together that well, and it could be argued that Bourne has now ascended into a wholly robotic action machine. I don't think this is a bad thing though; from a characterization point of view I can see why Bourne might be colder and more inured to his life and past, and there are still some key moments where his feelings on what he has done and what he is peek out. For the most part the atmosphere sticks to the unshowy, perfunctory style that is a hallmark of these films, one that makes it much easier to suspend disbelief when required. There's a grounded in reality feel throughout, from the stark photography and locales to the look of the offices and the people populating them, right down to their wardrobes. There's rarely a sense that choices in this movie were made purely to appear cool.
Matt Damon is again terrific as Bourne, both physically and in terms of demeanour. There's an unwavering confidence about him now, and in the action scenes he is completely believable as an unstoppable super agent. The supporting cast is also excellent, with Joan Allen, Strathairn, and Stiles delivering in key roles and Paddy Considine making his bit part into something compelling and memorable. Greengrass once again employs his pseudo documentary style to good effect in his directing of the film; it's not going to win over people who hated it in Supermacy, but I reckon it's one of those choices that elevates these films above its ilk. Greengrass also does well to make everything hold together despite the ludicrous pace and sheer number of incidents that come flying at the viewer. There's always cohesion and a sense that it all clicks despite appearing that it might fly off the rails at any moment!
Bottom line, great performances and storytelling make for a great film, one that takes the character to new places (including a startling revelation!) and ups the thrills and action; it feels true to the earlier films without feeling overly familiar. The thematic throughline of the lone man against the oppressive and corrupt system is always compelling, and the Bourne series does it about as well as it has ever been done, at least in terms of action thrillers. 'Ultimatum' makes for a fitting conclusion to the story arc started in 'Identity' so I'm not sure where they'd take it from here in another sequel, but if Greengrass and Damon return for another Bourne outing (they're currently working together on 'Green Zone') you can bet your bottom dollar it'll make my 'must see' list!